Land Down Under
We just got back from our Chinese New Year break of two weeks. We took a trip to Australia and New Zealand, spending about a week in each place, We flew to Auckland, NZ, first, then on to Sydney, Australia, directly after, getting there on Sunday, January 30. It is summer there with temperatures in the high 30s Celsius, or high 90s Fahrenheit. There was a category 5 cyclone (or hurricane) heading for Cairns, Northern Australia, near the Great Barrier Reef, but it was far away from where we were, so it did not affect us. We did watch the coverage on TV. The area above Brisbane had been suffering from terrible floods, which we had heard about. The weather has been battering Australia. We heard there are fires in Perth, as it’s too dry there. We work with a lot of Australians at our school, so many know people affected by these weather issues.
We rented a car and tried to remember to drive on the left side of the road during our trip.
Sydney was hot…around 40 degrees Celsius…about 100 F. We only spent one day in Sydney, a city of about 4.5 million in the urban area. It did not feel that crowded, perhaps because it is very spread out…it stretches for miles in each direction. Australia is very “laid-back” and so it is unhurried. We walked down to Darling Harbor and had mussels, wine and beers, with many relaxed Aussies. We walked from there to the Harbor Bridge, the symbol of Sydney, to view the Opera House. They offer “Bridge Climbs” to tourists who want to don jumpsuits and guy-lines to climb to the top of the Harbor Bridge for only about $300 Australian dollars. The Australian dollar is worth slightly more than the American dollar. The Australian economy is doing quite fine in today’s global economy as they provide natural resources to nearby China, especially minerals.
As we said, Australians are very “laid-back.” We noticed they were dressed very casually…lots of flip-flops, tee shirts, and shorts in the airport. Aussies have nicknames for almost everything. We saw they advertised “Brekky” at Burger King. The expressions “No worries,” and “G’ Day, Mate,” come from there, and it looks like they live that way. The Aussies we work with love to “cook on the barbie(barbecue grill),” and we saw “barbies on sale at Bunnings, their version of Home Depot.
We headed inland to the Blue Mountains, about one hour from Sydney. We stayed in Katoomba, an old funky town nestled in beautiful mountains and valleys, that resemble mountains of the U.S., even the Grand Canyon. The Blue Mountains are close enough to Sydney that they have been popular for over a century as an escape from the summer heat of Sydney.
The Blue Mountains are not actually mountains, we were informed by a guide. They are actually a “dissected plateau that has been carved by rivers running through this plateau”, but as the guide said, “Blue Mountains sounds better.” They are called the Blue Mountains because of the blue haze from the eucalypt (eucalyptus) trees that hangs over the valleys. There are over 700 species of eucaylpt trees, mostly found in Australia. They are large beautiful trees, that lose their outside bark each year(deciduous bark); it peels and falls to the forest floor. Koala bears eat eucalyptus leaves. We did not see any Koalas…sigh!
We stayed overnight at the Clarendon Lodge, a very laid-back place with a small music hall where the likes of Arlo Guthie had played. Grace Jones would be playing there the following Sunday. We walked around Katoomba in the evening, just a few people, and things closed up by 7 if they were not busy.
The next day we toured more of the Blue Mountains, taking a cable car ride across a gorge, riding down the “steepest railway in the world,” to the bottom of the valley. The railway is part of where they used to mine coal. We were told the Blue Mountains valley is 15 times older than the Grand Canyon, which we, as Americans, found hard to believe! There was some beautiful and amazing vegetation on the valley floor, such as tree ferns.
There was a great road aptly named “Cliff Drive” that we took at sunset to get to see the many vistas of the Blue Mountains. It was spectacular.
After the Blue Mountains we drove south towards the capital, Canberra. Canberra was chosen and built as Australia’s capital, as both Sydney and Melbourne wanted to be the capital. So Canberra is about halfway between them.
The land rises up near Canberra and has some mountains. There is skiing around there in the winter. We were interested to note the land, while some was used as farmland, there was much unused land, probably because there are not enough people to work the land. We saw many fields just growing wild, along the highway.
We proceeded from Canberra to the east coast and took in just some of Australia’s gorgeous beaches, of which it seems to have mile after mile.
We stayed first at Eden Beach, which had wonderful yellow sand, and wild crashing surf. We saw the local schoolkids there, having swimming and surfing lessons as part of school. Aussie kids had just gone back to school that week, after their summer vacation.
We drove back up the coast towards Sydney, taking in the scenery. We spotted many kangaroos in fields along the way. They seemed to like to hang out with horses in pastures. They were very smart. They were quite aware of us and we could not get close to them. So we did not get any good pictures of them. Barbara said they looked like big bunnies, especially when they hopped off.
Our time in Australia was not long enough, but we got a small taste of the Land Down Under, and would like to go back to where life is literally for many, “A Day at the Beach.” We flew out of Sydney to New Zealand, about a 3 hour flight, more on NZ in next blog entry. “G’Day, Mate!”